The Secret to Happiness

Millie Giles suggests that the answer to finding happiness is simpler than we think.

The Secret to Happiness. If I could find something close to it, I’d probably be much less stressed, much richer, and be much more like the rest of the people who’ve attempted to answer this question in countless self-help books and TED talks. Zen, tranquil, smiling even when they’re not smiling. If you don’t know what I mean, Google Matthieu Ricard, author of ‘The Art of Meditation’: I have never experienced such overriding serenity from looking into a middle-aged white man’s eyes.

We’ve all in some way or another searched for it. Unabashedly reading motivational quotes, practising mindfulness, even in small acts like having a glass of wine after a long day or sending something funny to your friend. We pepper our endless hours with little jolts of dopamine, and store the best ones in our head-cave for when we have opportunities to reminisce. Beyond all other motivations and above all our ambitions, we all whittle down to our longing for the foretold ‘happy life’. Whether this to you is being a multi-billionaire or a mother or just someone who can go to brunch on a Sunday morning, our lives are spurred on by chasing joy. 

The desire to find a secret to this is universal because, despite what your optimistic acquaintances and the mythical ‘successful’ people would lead you to believe, everyone is miserable sometimes. In every golden moment we relish with our loved ones, there is an equal and opposite sepia-toned memory of how they respond to you when you’ve acted out, you’ve embarrassed yourself, or when your sadness swims to the surface. And your relationship to whomever you’ve shared the Hyde-version of your usual upbeat Jekyll is defined by their responsive softness – because, ultimately, we’ve all been there.

The secret to happiness is not loving everyone. No-one can force you to love all of your neighbours, especially those coughing on you in lectures. It is not choosing to be happy all the time, because how can you choose to always be happy when life can just be bad sometimes? Happiness can’t be made to be your primary feeling by any method. The only thing we can do with our painfully long, yet painfully short lives is to just know exactly what we feel when we feel it. And literally just feel it.

It is so easy to become numb to the world: to see our days as a means to an end, to wake up, do something, go back to bed, on and on. But whilst we seek out happiness from those we know or from things we like, we have to battle the indifference we feel during monotony. By denying ourselves the balance of the emotional spectrum, we can tune out of sync with what life gives to us, which is, more than anything else, a mixed bag. If something annoys you, you deserve to feel anger. If something upsets you, you deserve to feel sad. And regardless of whether you’ve achieved enlightenment, or you’ve just made it through a bad day, you always deserve to be happy.

Maybe the secret is really just to feel like you don’t always have to be, because the times you aren’t happy are just as valuable: a clenched fist; a heartbreak; a defeat; a loss. The quest for happiness is not a path and a shortcut will not resolve your moments of sadness. However, in dark times, thinking of the wonder of yourself – a little pile of organic matter – being able to feel so deeply and hurt so wholeheartedly, makes the rock-bottom lows more grounding. Which in turn makes the horizon seem more forgiving, as finding an answer turns out to be more achievable than immovable joy: embracing living for all that it is.

Illustrated by Aggie Tait.

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